Elijah Bellinger was all over the field Friday night for the Valley Central football team.
He was the featured component of the Vikings’ running game. He intercepted Warwick quarterback Nick DiMarco in the end zone, and he nearly returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
He helped bring the Vikings to within five points of posting a Week 0 victory on Friday night, but the Wildcats managed to hold off the Vikings 25-20.
“You just play at the end of the day,” said Bellinger, a senior running back and corner back. “It’s good to always see new faces. We haven’t seen Warwick in I don’t know how long. It’s good to see a new team.”
Bellinger ran for 170 yards on 23 carries and scored a touchdown for the Vikings.
“Eli ran the ball extremely hard, but our offensive line dominated this game,” Valley Central coach Andrew LaVallie said. “They worked hard, and they continue to work hard. It was those little mistakes, going into the 30 with a fumble, a kick return that became a 15-yard penalty. Those are all the things that made the change there.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Wildcats capitalized on the Vikings’ first mistake of the night as a bad snap on a punt attempt gave the Wildcats the ball on the Vikings’ 5-yard line.
On the next play, DiMarco scored on a 5-yuard run to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
Bellinger led the charge back as he returned the ensuing kickoff 66-yards to the Warwick 10-yard line setting up Daniel Latimer’s 10-yard touchdown run. However, the Vikings were unable to convert the extra point and trailed, 7-6.
“We needed a playmaker, and I guess I was the playmaker,” Bellinger said. “We have a bunch of playmakers, but it happened to be me. I just stepped up and made the play.”
After forcing the Wildcats to punt on their next drive, the Wildcats’ Tyler Ellis intercepted Valley Central quarterback Bryce DeRonda, setting up DiMarco’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Ryan McLaughlin for a 13-6 halftime lead.
The Wildcats dealt what could have been a demoralizing blow when Daniel Thorson returned the kickoff for a touchdown, giving his team a 19-6 lead.
“We’ve talked about this team being talented, but the biggest thing that was in question was their resilience,” LaVallie said. “We continued to see their resilience throughout this game. They never had their head down.
They were up by two scores, and we continued to fight back.”
They showed their resilience by cutting Warwick’s lead after taking advantage of the Wildcats’ bad snap, setting up Bellinger’s 4-yard touchdown to cut Warwick’s lead to seven points.
Then, with the Vikings’ trailing by 7, the Wildcats drove to the Vikings 2, but Bellinger’s end-zone interception kept the Vikings within a score.
“It gave me great energy,” Bellinger said. “It lifted the team up. Every time I see the team going, it makes me go even more.”
The Vikings couldn’t capitalize, and a 3-yard touchdown run by DiMarco restored Warwick’s 13-point lead, but Bellinger broke free for a 30-yard run and then converted the two-point play to cut the Wildcats’ lead to five with 2:40 remaining.
“The O-line did an amazing job,” Bellinger said. “I couldn’t have done it without them. Basically, you’ve just got to keep the team in the game. No matter what happens, you just fight to the end.”
The Vikings tried for an onside kick, but the Wildcats converted a third-down Hail Mary from DiMarco to McLaughlin to run out the clock.
“I just hope they know you’re always in the game,” Bellinger said. “Just keep your heads up. Keep fighting.”